Tuesday, January 22, 2013

NTIA Administrator Delivers Remarks

National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) Administrator Lawrence E. Strickling highlighted the success of NTIA’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) over the past three years at a panel discussion held at Brookings Institution in Washington D.C. on January 16th.

According to Strickling, NTIA with 4.7 billion in funding has deployed or upgraded 78,000 miles of broadband infrastructure. So far, 11,200 community anchor institutions including schools, hospitals, and libraries have been connected to broadband networks. NTIA has also installed more than 38,600 computer workstations in 2,600 public computer centers in 1,500 communities and generated more than 510,000 new broadband subscribers.

Strickling discussed how grantees are using Recovery Act funding to connect more than 3,000 healthcare facilities across the country. Seventy-five percent of these facilities are getting at least 10 megabits per second of bandwidth, which enables high definition video consultations and real-time image transfers. Over 40 percent of the facilities will be connected to more than 100 megabits per second of bandwidth to support the remote monitoring of patients.

As an example of how broadband really helps communities, one of the panelists Curtis Lowery, Jr., M.D., Professor and Chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and Director for the Center for Distance Health at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, recounted how technology is really helping at UAMS to bring medical care to rural areas.

He told the story of how a 43 year old mother of five in Arkansas suffered a massive stroke and was rushed to Northwest Medical Center in Bentonville Arkansas. Dr. Lowery said that the local hospital did not have the resources to adequately evaluate Smith’s medical condition to determine if the stroke had been caused by a blood clot. At this point, the woman was more than three hours away from a major regional medical center in Little Rock but the doctors in Bentonville felt that was too long to wait for an answer and start the treatment.

So the doctors at the hospital in Bentonville consulted with an on-call neurologist affiliated with UAMS over broadband. The neurologist was able to talk to and examine the woman over an interactive video conferencing system and quickly determined that she would benefit from a blood thinning drug. After the drug was administered, Smith was taken to the UAMS hospital by ambulance and soon after, she was able to speak.   

To make telemedicine possible, UAMS is using their $102 million Recovery Act award to build a statewide fiber-optic network to integrate, upgrade, and to extend two existing networks. The new network is going to reach all 75 counties in the state and connect or upgrade 81 hospitals, 12 healthcare training centers, and 113 local health facilities.

As a very active participant in the field, Dr. Lowery helped establish a Medicaid-funded cost-effective solution to assist high risk pregnancies in the state referred to as the ANGELS program. This program gives women access to genetics counselors and maternal and fetal medicine specialists who monitor them and conduct live fetal ultrasounds from a distance. The university is using grant funds to expand ANGELS to 36 sites around the state.

One participating facility is the Mena Regional Health System in Arkansas, in a town of 6,000 located 125 miles from Little Rock. Dr. John Mesko and the other obstetrician in town deliver roughly 450 babies a year and Mesko estimates that at least a quarter of those mothers have had at least one telemedicine ultrasound during their pregnancy.

In addition to ANGELS, Dr. Lowery founded the UAMS Center for Distance Health, a technology-based partnership within the College of Medicine and Regional Programs. The Center offers telemedicine, continuing medical and health education, public health education, and evaluation research.

Other participants in the panel discussion included the Moderator Darrell West Vice President and Director, Governance Studies at Brookings, Bruce Abraham Member of the Board of Directors at North Georgia Network, Susan Corbett, CEO, Axiom Technologies, and Mark Malaspina, President CFY.

For more information, go to www.brookings.edu.